The veep search and McCain's base problem

Put aside whatever you think about the Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Stacey Abrams: Barr's Mueller letter 'like having your brother summarize your report card' Abrams launches 'Fair Vote' nonprofit ahead of 2020 census MORE vs. Sarah Palin vice presidential match-up.

The way in which Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJam-packed primary poses a serious threat to Democrats in 2020 Free speech: Can universities take back control? What should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report? MORE and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGraham: McCain 'acted appropriately' by handing Steele dossier to FBI What should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report? Tom Daschle: McCain was a model to be emulated, not criticized MORE went about selecting their running mates says a lot about each man and his relationship with his party's base.

The bottom line: Whatever the conflicts between Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGraham: McCain 'acted appropriately' by handing Steele dossier to FBI Why Mueller's hedge on obstruction decision was a mistake Giuliani says news media treat Dems better than GOP MORE's dead-end supporters, the rift inside the Democratic Party created by their battle is not as deep as the fault lines among Republicans created by John McCain all by himself.

Obama's search created a guessing game. After it became clear he would not choose Clinton, Democrats wondered whether it would be Candidate A, B or C. Some people thought Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) was better than Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), or that Virginia Gov. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWhy do so many Democrats embrace hate speech? Dem senator wants Trump to extend immigration protections to Venezuelans Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration MORE was better than Kansas Gov. Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusKansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? New Dem Kansas gov reinstates protections for LGBT state employees MORE, or vice-versa. But no one threatened that one choice or the other would bring ruin to the Democratic Party.

McCain's search created a much more fundamental problem. After he told The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes that he would consider a pro-choice running mate, a significant part of the Republican base saw its longtime distrust of McCain confirmed anew.

"What is this about picking a liberal Democrat or a liberal Republican, particularly pro-choice?" asked Rush Limbaugh on Aug. 19. "If they do that, if the McCain camp does that, they will have effectively destroyed the Republican Party and pushed the conservative movement into the bleachers."

In a radio interview with McCain the next day, Laura Ingraham told McCain, "from the conservative perspective, we are literally imploring you to not turn your back on your great pro-life record over decades."

The conservative anxiety was made more intense because many members of the base had been heartened by McCain's performance at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Summit. His pro-life answers were clear and concise, a sharp contrast to Obama's "above my pay grade" waffling.

It was just what the pro-life base wanted to hear — and then news about the running-mate search poured cold water on their enthusiasm and renewed all their old issues with McCain.

As that was going on, I called Katon Dawson, who is chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina.

Sure, McCain is going to win South Carolina — no questions about that — but Dawson was deeply worried that a pro-choice running mate would kill the fervor that spurs volunteers to go door to door, to make phone calls, to work on get-out-the-vote efforts in November.

"I would encourage the McCain camp to be aware of who we're going to have working in the vineyards," Dawson told me. "I understand it's probably sexy to look at other alternatives and see that they bring to the table, but … you've got to have the volunteers, and the vice presidential pick will be crucial."

In the end, McCain veered away from a pro-choice pick. But his vice presidential search revealed that he still has serious problems with his base — not a good position going into the fall campaign.